Much psychological, sociological and even organisational research points to the fact that our ‘reality’ is shaped by the things to which we pay attention. Our focus not only produces our reality, but over time, selectively screens out the information that might contradict our construction of reality, thereby reinforcing our story of our lives.
I have been musing on this in terms of some organisational work that I’ve been doing with a client. They have a tendency to focus on what’s not working – what’s wrong and who is causing that ‘wrongness’. It got me thinking about interpersonal and cultural issues in the broader context of specifically South Africa, but of course, applicable wherever there’s two human beings (or more).
A lot of what seems to cause conflict, misunderstandings, preconceptions, distrust, and basic aggravation relates to the differences that we perceive in others. Race, gender, language, culture, religion, style of clothing; even where we live carries potential judgement. There’s sound evolutionary and social reasons for this: protection of the group to whom we belonged (in other words to whom we were similar) probably helped us survive when we were fighting off dinosaurs. I think we could use some of that phenomenal cognitive power that we’ve developed and put it really good use, to consciously shift our attention. What would happen if we deliberately and consciously looked for similarities between ourselves and others?
I don’t suggest that issues such as culture are not important. When it comes to resolving big matters though, could we choose to not focus on those differences as a reason to defend our worldview, and choose a much deeper level of commonality – our basic humanness – so that we can collaborate? It takes practice – we are so habituated to focus on differences that to do otherwise initially feels really weird and artificial. But if we’re honest with others about what we’re doing, and invite them to join us in our discomfort, we could all be horribly uncomfortable together. Hey, there’s something we’d then have in common!
I love the reality that we all bleed red……